As we’ve been discussing intentional spiritual growth, we laid the foundation by focusing on the great commandment — loving God — as the most important priority of any Christian. Then we took the concept to the practical level, discussing what it means to make God first priority in our lives. We have been careful to maintain the theological tension in our emphasis on balancing discipline and delight in spiritual growth. This is because, while spiritual discipline is biblical, it is meaningless apart from the right heart attitude.
The Importance of the Heart
Here’s what the Bible has to say about the importance of the heart:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
Motivations not Emotions
It is of vital importance to recognize that when the Bible speaks of the “heart”, it is not talking primarily about emotions (although they are related) but about our most basic motivations. (For a comprehensive study of the term “heart” in scripture, check out John Uebersax’s article here.) Motivations are what drive us to action; they are closely connected with our desires. In order to grow spiritually, we must make it a habit to take a close, hard look at our motivations and ask ourselves “Why do I desire _____________?” or “Why do I not desire ____________?”
Specifically, what we need to examine through the lens of scriptures is our motivations for what we do (our actions). It’s not enough to have a life plan and set spiritual goals for ourselves and intentionally pursue God. At the same time we also have to make sure that we are doing so for the right reasons.
Motivations are not an easy thing to figure out. Often we have mixed motives. Sometimes we follow God with the right reason but then we start liking that other people think well of us. The first step is to remind ourselves frequently that our motives are flawed and look for that in our hearts and deal with it. Notice Christ’s words of warning:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Discovering Right Motivations
After searching our hearts to uncover our motivations, the next step is to search Scripture to determine what are the right motivations for spiritual growth. Here are some suggested places to start.
Worship: recognizing who God is and ascribing worth to Him. The Hebrew word carries the basic meaning of “weight”.
Psalm 95:6-7 — “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”
Romans 12 — “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
You can’t have right motivations in the Christian life until you have a heart of worship for God!
Gratitude: recognizing what God has done and responding with thankfulness.
1 Samuel 12:24 — “Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.”
Hebrews 12:28 — “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”
Rewards: Knowing human nature, God has designed both legitimate intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.
Colossians 3:23-24 — “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8 — “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Matthew 6:20 — “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”
Fear: a valid motivator for the Christian.
Philippians 2:12 — “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
2 Corinthians 5:11— “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.”
Fighting Spiritual Apathy
What if I lack motivation? Apathy is rampant in our culture. Recently I was reading a study on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) Test given to high schoolers across the world. They determined that American students did not lack of opportunity but performed poorly due to apathy. We are being entertained to death!
If you struggle with apathy, my advice is to stop being entertained and start thinking. Turn off the “neutral stuff” in your life. Don’t steer away from things that challenge you or challenge your thinking. In fact challenge yourself – set goals – decide to do something. It’s not possible to be passive in a war zone.
What if I struggle with depression? It is certainly hard to be motivated when suffering mentally. And it is not always sinful to be down. It may be the result of exhaustion, or it may be a time of learning God has granted as in the case of Job. It may be an opportunity to evaluate what is really important in life and pursue that with renewed energy. It may be a result of sin – bitterness, anger. In a time of depression like these, sometimes the only source of motivation we can muster is hope. Psalm 130 records the Psalmist’s cry for help based on biblical hope: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! . . . I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”
If you have ever stumbled through a pitch-black room, you may have found that it is sometimes possible to find the tiniest speck of light (from a computer or phone, etc.), and use that pin dot to guide you. In the same way, when you feel surrounded by the darkness of depression, look for a speck of hope in Scripture and fixate on that truth as a guiding star, resolving to pursue what you know is right even when you don’t feel like it.
The Importance of Motivations
I hope you can see how motivations are an extremely important factor in spiritual growth. The only way to maintain right motivations is saturating yourself with and responding to truth. Fortunately, God has promised that His Holy Spirit will guide our hearts into truth as we seek Him (John 16:32).